He’s been to Burning Man 11 times. He’s a bonefishing world champion. He and his staff typically work in scrubs and bare feet. Jimmy Buffett played at his wedding 13 years ago. He started the Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival with local radio legend Bill Becker 30 years ago. And he had to reschedule an interview about his upcoming retirement — to go skydiving on Sugarloaf Key.
He is Dr. Fred Troxel, venerable Keys dentist, yet still a self-described “old hippie” who was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania, but grew up in the Fort Lauderdale area.
His dad was a Pennsylvania Dutch sea captain and his mom was a U.S. Army nurse from Memphis.
Troxel’s Key Smile restorative and aesthetic dental practice has been housed in one of the coolest buildings on Big Pine Key since 1977, but Troxel had fallen in love with the Keys in the late 60s.
“I went to SeaCamp on Big Pine in 1965 when I was a junior in high school and my family lived in Fort Lauderdale,” he told the Keys Weekly on Oct. 31, a day after his second skydiving adventure. “Then I came back to it as a counselor after college and before I started dental school, which I signed up for to avoid the draft.
“But that was the part of the Keys that I knew and fell in love with,” Troxel said of Big Pine. “When I first opened my practice here in 1977, there were probably only 1,000 full-time residents on Big Pine. But this island and all the Keys grew up and grew up fast.”
So did his dental practice.
“Oh man, back in the beginning, I barely knew enough not to be dangerous,” he said laughing. “I hired my first wife to run the office and a bank teller that I liked from my bank to be my dental assistant. But we made a living. I was just an old hippie. I grew into it and I spent a jillion hours on continuing education to improve my skills and I found some fantastic mentors.”
Troxel for years has specialized in full-mouth restorative and aesthetic dentistry, creating the smiles that people wish they had.
“There’s an artistic element to not making everyone look the same,” he said, admitting that he can’t look at someone — on television or in person — without mentally noting what he could “fix” with their teeth and smile.
And as for the Jimmy Buffett connection?
“Well, my first wife was an artist and then went to school to become an architect,” Troxel recalled. “It was in the mid-’80s and Jimmy had already had musical success. He had bought a house on Riviera Drive and after seeing some of my wife’s architectural work, he hired her. Then she hooked us both up to go bonefishing together. Once we started fishing together, we just continued the friendship. And when Rita and I got married 13 years ago, he played at our wedding.”
It’s a story Keys locals have heard even if they don’t know the Troxels personally.
Rita Troxel was an actress in Key West, usually at Red Barn Theater, when Fred met her.
“We’d be at the same parties and events,” Fred Troxel said. “Actually, Tony Falcone likes to take credit for us getting together, but Dr. Michael Berman takes the same credit. That was 13 years ago.”
As Troxel wraps up his long and successful dental career, he and his wife are looking forward to retirement. But they’re not going anywhere too far away for too long.
“We’re here forever. Rita’s been here even longer than I and these are our people,” he said.
Troxel will turn 75 in a few weeks, and didn’t know how he would ever retire and leave his patients, staff and practice in good and capable hands.
Then Dr. Chris Forsee arrived back on the Keys scene.
“He had actually been down here 20 years ago on Simonton Street and he loved the Keys,” Troxel said of Forsee. “Then he moved up to the mainland to practice, but always wanted to come back to the Keys. When he called and asked if I was ready to retire yet, I knew he was the perfect guy to buy my practice.
“He’s a really, really good dentist,” Troxel said. “He and his wife are just the greatest people, and once he met my staff and patients, we all said, ‘This is perfect.’ No qualms whatsoever about him taking over.”
Troxel says he’ll wrap things up around January 2024, as he still has long-term cases he’s working on with some patients.
“It’s been a really great ride, through it all, and I couldn’t be more comfortable leaving the practice in the hands of Dr. Chris Forsee.”